Hi Friends –
One of the steps in becoming an ordained Unity minister is to write what is known as your credo. Phil White taught the “Credo” class at Unity for many years. He writes,
“the purpose of a credo is to help ministerial candidates think through, organize, and ‘own’ a functional theological belief system for Unity ministry. The word credo is Latin for ‘I believe.’ We all have an unwritten credo—a constellation of beliefs about God, personhood, our relationship to God, and ministry.”
I am working though my own credo. As I complete various sections, I will add them here.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Tradition, Scripture and Culture
This paper will explore how my beliefs have been influenced by tradition, scripture and culture. These three items happen to correlate precisely to the first item on the TruthUnity menu for Beliefs: Bible (scripture), Christianity (tradition) and Metaphysics (culture). So I am especially grateful for the opportunity to not only communicate my beliefs but to also be able to demonstrate them in my teaching.
I will begin with tradition, which Phil White described as “formative factors referring to those aspects of a religious faith that are repeated again and again by an individual or a community”.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore certainly identified themselves and their teachings as Christian and so do I. They distinguished their form of Christianity as “practical Christianity” and proceeded to convey their beliefs in a belief structure they called “Metaphysics”. After a decade of applying their teachings in my life, I have arrived at a point where I refer to their type of Christianity as “Metaphysical Christianity”. That is to say that I self-identify as a “metaphysical Christian”.<>/p>
Metaphysical Christianity and Evangelical Christianity are two ends of a continuum in Christian history and theology. One is focused on the person of Jesus and the adoration of his divinity, the other is focused on the Christ within, and the calling, in the words of Jesus, to love as he loved and to do the works that he did. The leading scholar of metaphysical religion today writes, "metaphysical religion ... is at least as important as evangelicalism in fathoming the shape and scope of American religious history."1
It may be claimed that the success of the Unity movement over time, compared to other branches of New Thought, is due to Charles Fillmore's insistence on what he called the "Jesus Christ Standard." The only other metaphysical movement in America that was as successful as Unity was Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science. Unity and Christian Science are the two metaphysical movements which claimed and defended their rightful place as authentic and distinct expressions of the Christian tradition. And they have been, over time, the most successful. Our identification as a Christian denomination is important because the 50-75% of Americans who have dropped out of church are not dropping out of Christianity; they are just looking for a better story and a better way to practice their Christian faith.
It is difficult or perhaps impossible to distance Unity from Christianity without distancing Unity from the foundational teachings of the Fillmores. How are we to be open to the best of metaphysical religion without diluting the foundational teachings of the Fillmores with New Age? Having said that, how do we proclaim ourselves part of the historic Christian church without associating our theology with blood-atonement orthodox theology?
These are difficult questions. Regardless of the difficulty they pose, we must address them. Therefore a foundational component of my credo and ministry is, as embodied in the mission statement of TruthUnity, “to proclaim and promote metaphysical Christianity as an authentic and distinct expression of the historic Christian faith–an educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ.”
As shown above, I choose to define my beliefs as a Metaphysical Christian in the Fillmore tradition by comparing them to what is commonly known and understood in the West: Evangelical Christianity. I do so with three assertions:
- We are not born in sin, rather we are born in bondedness. The first task of a new born infant is to bond, to understand to whom we go for getting our needs met. So it is with our metaphysical Christian journey: we go to Source.
- Jesus did not ask us to worship him. He told us to follow him. Jesus always pointed beyond himself to the Father and became our shower of the way to do so.
- We are not saved by confession, rather we are saved by transformation. Many today believe language is the key to salvation. But true metaphysical Christians know that we are saved by a change in what we see, not what we say.
These three assertions reflect how Unity has informed my understanding of what it means to be a Metaphysical Christian and they establish for me my consciousness of Oneness with God, my journey with Christ Jesus and my expression as a human being.
Phil White has written that scripture has provided “a stability and even a certain kind of objectivity” in the movement “because of the large part it has played in the formation and articulation of belief.” That means if we detach our beliefs from scripture, then we are prone to instability and subjectivity in our beliefs. Further, we will likely then attach our beliefs to all sorts of New Age texts which are ephemeral. Third we, as a denomination, then provide our critics one more reason to regard Metaphysical Christianity as an untrustworthy spiritual pathway.
That is why I am devoting most of my efforts now to a project called the Fillmore Study Bible and the formation of a Fillmore Bible Society. It is also why I hyperlinked the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary with the bible text; which has served tens of thousands of inquiries each month for over ten years to Bible students all over the world.
I will discuss more about these projects in a later paper (Credo paper #8: Ministry as Education Consciousness and Skills). For this paper, I will show how leaning-in to the engaging of scripture informs the the Unity truth student in a reliable and trustworthy way.
Rather than cherry-pick a few Biblical texts which are comforting for Metaphysical Christians, such as “God is love” or “renewal by the transformation of the mind”, let’s look at some of the best known belief-informing Bible passages we encounter today and see if we might formulate new insights or interpret them in new ways. Why? Because we in Unity have always held there is an essential Divine Idea behind all things, even scripture that may be difficult to comprehend. In that spirit, let’s look at the four theological phrases most-often use by St Paul in his letters:2
“Jesus is Lord”: Oneness in God-Mind. One phrase most commonly used by St Paul is “Jesus is Lord”. That is likely because Paul's true mission is not just converting Jews or Gentiles, but rather converting all of Rome, for Rome symbolized a world order that could not stand in light of the new world order (of oneness) established by Christ. The metaphysical equivalent of challenging Rome is challenging the reign of the will and the intellect (or understanding) in consciousness.
It’s important to know that Rome had a “metaphysics”. It was a metaphysics of the will, or, as I call it, “Godless Metaphysics.” There is nothing wrong with metaphysics (I will address the distinction between metaphysics and mysticism in a later paper (Credo Paper #4: Humankind’s Relationship with God), but there is a big difference between Godless Metaphysics and Christian Metaphysics.
Godless Metaphysics is about the supremacy of the will and "might makes right." Godless Metaphysics may have found its way into some aspects of New Thought, but it's not the metaphysics I know. In contrast, Christian Metaphysics is not about "might makes right"; rather it is about establishing a moral order in one's life and in society, based on Oneness in God-Mind and aligned with a Christ-like moral order.
“In Christ, In the Spirit”: Free Flow of Divine Ideas. Another most commonly used phrase by St Paul is “in Christ” and/or “in the Spirit”. Marcus Borg says that Paul uses the term “in Christ” 165 times in this letters and another twenty times he uses the synonymous term “in the Spirit.” These terms convey what Borg calls Paul's “vision of the Christian life.” In other words, they speak to how we should live. My sense is that when Paul speaks about living “in Christ” or “in the Spirit” he is speaking about being free from sin, which means it is how we live when there is no separation from God. For us as metaphysicians, a life lived with no separation from God-Mind results in the flow of Divine Ideas from God-Mind into human consciousness.
In contrast to a life “in Christ,” Paul describes another way of living, separate from God and one of bondage to sin, which he refers to as life “in the flesh” or “in Adam.” Sin leads to judgment and judgment leads to death. Why? Because judgment, known as “compensation” for the metaphysician, is an immediate and absolute constriction or tightening of our soul that prevents the flow of Divine Ideas from God-Mind. Emerson describes that compensation like this:
See how this rapid intrinsic energy worketh everywhere, righting wrongs, correcting appearance, and bringing up facts to a harmony with thoughts. Its operation in life, though slow to the senses, is at last, as sure as in the soul. By it, a man is made the the Providence to himself, dispensing good to his goodness, and evil to his sin. Character is always known.
Divine Ideas are, for the metaphysician, our source of well-being, health and prosperity. Charles Fillmore writes,
Divine ideas are man's inheritance; they are pregnant with all possibility, because ideas are the foundation and cause of all that man desires. With this understanding as a foundation, we easily perceive how "all ... mine are thine." All the ideas contained in the one Father-Mind are at the mental command of its offspring. Get behind a thing into the mental realm where it exists as an inexhaustible idea, and you can draw upon it perpetually and never deplete the source.
By constricting the flow of Divine ideas into our soul, sin, the state of consciousness of being separate from God, brings on what the Paul called living “in the flesh” and the traditional Christian calls judgment.
“Justified by Grace Through Faith”: Perfect Expression. The third great theme of Paul's writings is expressed by some form of “justification by grace,” which Paul places in sharp opposition to “justification by works of the law.” Being a legal term, we sense that this distinction of “works” versus “grace through faith” will determine the quality of our daily life. As metaphysicians, we are always concerned about fully expressing our full Christ nature at all times. Anything less can be considered a type of death. Paul found that “works of the law” were never sufficient to cause full expression of our Christ nature. He taught that it could only be achieved by “grace through faith.”
Paul came to his understanding of “justification by grace through faith” because of his inability to achieve a perfect expression by will and intellect. He was a good Pharisee, but he also knew that his pharisaical life was not sufficient to achieve the full expression of his true nature. He was trying to find salvation by will power. The will is one of the Twelve Powers, our decision making faculty that moves the other faculties into action. The problem with the will is that it cannot see the reality of Divine ideas. Paul's discovery is that the it is the faculty of faith, our ability to perceive the reality of the oneness of God and the flow of Divine ideas, that enables us to achieve perfect expression.
The power behind justification by grace through faith, or perfect expression, is what metaphysicians know as “works of consciousness,” that is, our work in consciousness with the Divine Ideas given by God-Mind, primarily through affirmations, prayer and what Eric Butterworth called keeping “in the flow of life.” Such works can't help but express our Christ potential. Trying to be perfect by our own will-power doesn't work.
“Christ Crucified”: Metaphysical Freedom. You might have noticed that the three phrases mentioned above are related to the great meta-narrative of Metaphysical religion: Mind (Jesus is Lord), Idea (In Christ) and Expression (Justified by Grace). As important as these phrases are, there is one more that is perhaps most important. People today, particularly in the Western church, seem to be obsessed with the the crucifixion of Jesus. Why was Christ crucified?
Traditional Christianity has given a variety of answers, sometimes declaring that Jesus was a scapegoat for our sins, sometimes saying that “God so love us that he sacrificed himself for us and sometimes accusing Rome or the Jews of spiritual blindness. But none of these answers are truly satisfying for modern day metaphysical Christians.
We get a glimpse of the meaning Paul placed on the crucifixion of Jesus in the the following well-known passage from Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, RSV).
Take note of a few things. First, it is Paul who is crucified. Second, Paul is crucified with Christ. Third, Paul is transformed, not in his status before God (he still lives “in the flesh”) but rather in his new reliance on faith. Finally, Paul is aware of being loved.
All these point to one inescapable conclusion: that the path to declaring “Jesus is Lord!” (God-Mind), the path to a life “in Christ” (ideas) and the path to “justification by grace though faith” (expression) is the path of spiritual rebirth and spiritual rebirth only occurs by being crucified with Christ.
Metaphysically, crucifixion is our experience of letting go of error thinking, some cherished aspect our our personality or of our personal life, in order to unfold more of our spiritual potential. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
There is perhaps no other passage in all of Paul's letters where he so clearly reveals his own metaphysical understanding of the sacrifice of Christ. Paul believes we are a living sacrifice, not for the forgiveness of sins, or for martyrdom, but rather for the “renewing of our minds.” Our mind is where we establish our oneness with God by declaring “Jesus is Lord!” Our mind is where we allow the flow of Divine ideas to enter by living “in Christ.” Our mind is where we are justified by grace through works of consciousness of our faith faculty. And, ultimately, our mind is where we are transformed into new life by embracing our crucifixion with Christ.
Culture, as explained by Phil White, “can be defined as the concepts, habits, skills, arts, language, and institutions of a given people in a given period”. He says it is a formative factor in belief because no one can escape sharing in the mentality or “climate” of his or her own culture. Further, culture is foundational in ministry because when we put our beliefs into words so that we might share them with others “we inevitably must use a language that is the product of our culture if we are to be understood”.
While it is true that we have differing regional and social cultures, such as western or eastern, black or white, or liberal and conservative, we also have three predominant “world views” which are foundational cultural markers for spiritual development. They are evident in the way they shape how we comprehend Truth. The biggest mistake people in Unity are making today is assuming that we all arrive at Truth in the same way. Because Truth is universal and unchanging, we assume that the way we come to know Truth is also universal and unchanging. But that is not so. The Truth we come to know comes to us in at least three ways:
For Traditionalists, Truth is REVEALED — revealed by the church or by the Bible, through intuition, as taught by the Transcendentalists, or, as taught by the Fillmores, by "going to headquarters" or "in the Silence". Revealed Truth orders our thinking according to God-Mind and aligns our consciousness with the perfect image of God of which we are true expressions. Tradition revealed monism, a Truth that God and the world are one, that they are "categorically distinguished but nowhere disjointed" and where "all things fall into [their perfect and right] place."3 In Unity, we know this as oneness.
For Moderns, Truth is DISCOVERED — discovered by observation of nature, scientific discovery and deductive thinking. Truth discovered by moderns taught us that all persons are created equal and that the pursuit of happiness is a noble cause. Moderns in Unity are enthusiastic about the insights gained from quantum physics, near-death experiences, neuropsychology, crystals, energy-medicine and a slew of other pathways that straddle the unknown world and the world which we can grasp by the senses. While the moderns are also interested in how science may order our thinking ("order is heaven's first law"), the true hope of modernity is progress, or, as we refer to it in Unity, prosperity.
For Postmoderns, Truth is known in RELATIONSHIPS — what is "right and true" leads to loving relationships, or else it is not based on rightness nor Truth. Many of our accepted Truths from tradition and from modernism have rapidly been discredited and rejected in the past 100 or so years. Postmoderns have stepped in with a way of acquiring Truth that moves us forward. We have learned that ending slavery could not address racism; we have learned that scientific achievement could not prevent the barbarism of the holocaust; we have learned that extending voting rights to women could not fully open them to their human potential; and most recently we have learned that what is typically called "family values" never brought about the renaissance of commitment to marriage and family that gays and lesbians are leading in today's society. Postmoderns in Unity are especially attached to A Course in Miracles, the Peace Song and the Beatles ("Imagine" and "All You Need Is Love"). The love they teach leads to what we know in Unity as wholeness.
While we are in church this Sunday, we should look around at our fellow congregants; and especially consider the person with whom we are not all that familiar. Is it not possible that he or she beholds the same Truth as we, but that his or her Truth comes in a different way than it comes to you and I? And, if that is so, can we not recognize the unique way he or she expresses that Truth? And if the minister's lesson isn't quite resonating with us, can we look beyond the preacher's illustrations and words to the deeper Truth of the message?
Awareness of these differing ways of coming to Truth helps me to show up better in the current (digital) age: the traditionalists teach me to commit to Unity's spiritual pathway, to support the church congregation and to tithe; the moderns teach me to think of new discoveries as spiritual truth and to use my intellect as much as my understanding; and the postmoderns stretch me to be more loving, open and tolerant to all people and all creation.
I will speak how these different ways of realizing Truth plays out in ministry (Credo Paper #6, Ministry as Pastoral Consciousness and Skills), but, for now, I need to stress how these new ways of coming to know Truth expand my consciousness. I embrace the diversity of acquiring Truth in my fellow congregants for the simple fact that I need to embrace it in my own thinking.
These three elements, tradition, scripture and culture, shape how I see my world and therefore they are a foundational component of my belief system. They do not necessarily shape my internal experience of my world. That will be addressed in the next paper (Credo Paper #2, Experience, Revelation and Reason).
- Catherine Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion. (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008).
- Marcus Borg; Reading the Bible Again For the First Time, pp. 243-58.
- Huston Smith; Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit In An Age Of Disbelief; p. 4. http://www.hustonsmith.net